Skip to content

Water Everywhere

I could turn this into a rant about the places that my elderly (19+ years) cat has peed in the past few days, but will limit myself to puzzled amazement that one small cat can emit so much liquid.

The past week or so has seen SE Queensland drenched with the remnants of and precursors to cyclones, combined with a general swing to wetter conditions. We’ve been in drought for quite a few years, so I think many people have forgotten that the region is really sub-tropical, and rain in summer is something we should expect. Of course, in this instance there is more rain than can be comfortably dealt with, and as I write this an area roughly the size of Germany and France combined is under water.

I don’t have problems with flooding in my house, being on the side of a hill well above the water table, and the house is raised up to let water flow through underneath when needed. Which it has been. Every so often the rain comes down hard enough and long enough that the soil is soaked past the point where it will absorb any more water, and the rain starts to run off the top, down the slope, through my garage and out under the garage door. Today I sat and watched the rain coming down onto my soaked yard, and watched a constant stream rush out of the downpipes, away and lost and never to be used.

All of which highlights the daftness of the issues around potable water in SE Queensland.

A few years ago, as the dams became lower and lower, it looked like we’d run out of drinking water altogether. The state government, and local governments, went crazy, and advised us all on how to save water, how to ration water, how to conserve water. All the while ignoring the reality that the amount of potable water from the dams used by households was only a fraction of what was being used by industry. Still, we saved, and installed water tanks, and fiddled with grey water solutions. Fast forward to now, and the dams are overflowing, there is more potable water than can be used… and yet water is significantly more expensive now than when it was in the middle of the drought.

You see, at the same time that there was a panic about how to manage water, the State Government took back control of all water matters from the local governments, for a variety of mainly ideological reasons, under the assertion that it would be cheaper for the consumer. Except, of course, an extra layer of bureaucracy was created, and several semi-private entities born to sell water to each other, and to the councils, and ultimately to us. It was inevitable, and entirely unsurprising, that when the new distribution companies were faced with the massive costs of recovering from decades of underfunding of maintenance and new construction… the costs were flipped straight onto the consumers.

In the middle of the wettest months SE Queensland has seen, potable water has become one of the biggest imposts on household budgets, with indications that price rises of at least 15% will happen over the next 6 months, and the high probability of more rises after that.

Surely the water tanks and grey water systems have ensured that consumers are buying less water? Well, no. The trouble is that the by-laws around use of the water from the tanks, and water from grey-water systems, are managed at the local government level, and are different from area to area, and generally forbid the use of tank water and grey water for anything other than the garden (and in some areas, you cannot put grey water on the garden, either). So all that extra water that previously was lost? Is still mainly lost. Unusable.

Want to reuse the water from the washing machine to flush the toilet? You can’t. Want to use the water in the tank for drinking water? You can’t.

The panicked reactions of state and local governments to the drought resulted in the familiar patchwork of half-implemented, half-considered, half-reformed schemes. But because it’s the 21st Century, it’s dressed up with a cunning new logo, and a bravely re-badged water company with an exciting name.

It’s not hard, really, it’s not hard at all. On the east coast of Australia, we have ample water. More water than can actually be consumed by households as potable water. All that is needed are some relatively simple, albeit politically pungent, changes. Reform the by-laws so that they are the same across the whole state. Allow the use of grey water, suitably filtered, for toilets. Allow the use of tank water, suitably filtered, as potable water. Mandate the use of water recycled from the sewerage system for most industrial applications. Please, somebody on the treasury seats – take the bit between your teeth, and just get it done.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *